Wintertime Memories from Montour County
One problem with writing about memories is that others who experienced those same moments may not remember them the same way. My siblings and cousins who also grew up in Montour County in the 1950s and 1960s may disagree with the what I remember or, hopefully, they will remember more. But, that’s the goal of the memories I write about – to jog other people’s memories and have them share their experiences with our family.
I was born in 1953. I believe I was probably 6 years old when I was expected to get up at the same time as Dad (Homer Hagenbuch) and my older brothers, then head out to the barn at 5 AM to feed the cows and do the milking. I remember it being especially cold in the barn and even in our house, which only had heat on the first floor via a wood stove and oil burning stove.
The upstairs only received heat through the stove pipes from downstairs and maybe an electric space heater. When I was about seven or eight we got electric blankets; but we to be careful because Mom (Irene “Faus” Hagenbuch) thought that if we threw back the blanket and the wires crossed we would get electrocuted. So, my brother David and I slept “like the dead” on our backs and were afraid to move all night!
Anyway, we certainly bundled up well to go do the barn work in the morning and evening. We wore hoods, coats, gloves, heavy trousers, wool socks, and “gum boots”. When the temperature got down below freezing, Dad would take loose hay and pack it around the water spigots in the barn, then stack bales of hay tightly around them.
I still remember the misty breath of the cows as they stood in the barnyard and how the steam would roll off the cow flops when they were freshly dropped. The barn work’s difficulty was multiplied by the cold. Water troughs would freeze. We had inground storage for silage which would freeze solid. Dad would take the chain saw and cut blocks of silage to take into the barn to thaw.
One of my earliest memories was a Saturday when I was five or six years old. I was told by my brother Bob to go throw some feed out on the frozen ground for our geese. We had four domesticated white geese which Mom used in her strawberry patch in the summer (geese will not eat the strawberries, just weeds). I was very afraid of the two ganders in the quartet and told Bob I didn’t want to do it. He said there would be no problem – get a stick and if the ganders come close, wave it at them.
I’m sure most folks have seen A Christmas Story with Ralphie and his little brother Randy. There really were snow suits like Randy wears in the movie. I know. I had one and was wearing it the day the ganders attacked; and that’s exactly what they did! As I approached them, the youngest gander ran towards me squawking, bowled me over, and stood on my chest. My arms were flailing as his hard beak pecked at my face.
My stick did no good because it was…a twig! I was only five and to me it seemed like a substantial stick, but it broke into smithereens immediately. And, just like Randy in A Christmas Story I could not get up. I was like a turtle on its back. Bob must have been nearby because he rescued me with great guffaws of laughter. (Reminds me of the time he told me the electric fence was not on and dared me to touch it – hmm, another future article!)
We were fortunate on our farm to have two great sledding hills. These would be covered with snow and ice. I remember having time between chores to take the Lightning Guider up the first hill and speed down past the barn to the mailbox, sometimes even going out on the main road (which in Limestone Twp. had little traffic). As the snow melted and refroze, stones would peek out. If I fell off my sled, which was usual (sometimes done on purpose) I would end up with a skinned cheek, bumps, and bruises. It was part of being a kid back then.
At school we regularly had snow ball fights on the playground. We built forts with opposing “armies”. I remember there were times when snowballs had stones in them. I don’t ever remember telling our teacher about this. No, we would take care of that “problem” ourselves. But, in the end, everyone got along.
I distinctly recall the smell of hot wool as gloves, hats, and coats dried on the wooden school floors beside the radiators. We also made intricate paths in the snow with dead ends, circular tracks and detours. We played a form of fox and goose on these paths which we made with our buckled up rubber boots.
One of us boys would be the fox. He would have to travel on the snow packed paths to catch the rest of us who played the geese. Being the fox was like being “it” for tag and was not much fun. Often times when the geese were not watching, the fox would jump from one path to another instead of following in the tracks. Every season had its special recess games. Winter was special for us students, but not as special for the teachers who had to dry out our clothing, mop up the wet puddles from snow, as well as put up with the constant coughing and runny noses which winter recesses brought.
I believe I was in 5th grade when my best friend Randy Durlin and I decided to go sledding at my place after school. He lived about a quarter mile from my home and he didn’t have a hill for sledding. His bus stop was before mine. So, after school one day I got off the bus at his farm instead of traveling on to my stop. No bus driver today would allow such a thing to happen without a note or parent giving expressed permission. But, times were different then.
We went and got his sled and must have forgotten to check with his mother about our plans. Then, down the road we went, pulling his sled and walking past the only two neighbors’ homes on the quarter mile walk – the Bogarts and the Beachels. When we got to my place we trudged up past the barn and got my sled from the shed. We did not check in with my mother in the house and began sledding down that wonderful first hill.
We took a few trips down the hill on our sleds and then – well, then Randy’s mother showed up in their car and my mother and father appeared too. There must have been some frantic phone calls back and forth. The winter fun of sledding that day ended abruptly as we were disciplined (doesn’t take much to imagine how!) and Randy went home with his sled. Our worried parents made sure we were “impressed” with the fact we were now old enough to act responsibly.
I have wonderful memories of my childhood on the farm, my school friends, and my many relatives on nearby farms. There was certainly a balance between work and play on a farm. As I write, more memories flood through: the snow house we built in the yard, making a ski ramp and having real skis and ski boots because of my brother Bob’s interest in that sport (so uncommon for farm boys), grabbing on to heifer’s tails so they pulled me around on the ice, the huge piles of snow that Dad made with the manure loader in the pasture and climbing up them to slide back down, and so many more. Cold winters – warm memories.